Why Accessibility Became My Focus

A large monitor on a desk with keyboard and mouse nearby, with the words "Do More" displayed on the screen.

When people learn about what I do for a living, the conversations always lead to this question: “How did you become interested in accessibility?”

The answer is buried inside 23 years working in usability, online conversions, software QA and providing web site audits as an independent consultant.  Previous to this were the trial by fire experiences in the 1990’s when I built websites and promoted them in search engines and web directories.

Early on I made the connection from search engine marketing to usability. A confusing website is difficult to promote because it conveys the message that web visitors are not valued.

I connected accessibility to usability thanks to the human factors and neuroscience fields. My experiences there led to human experience design as my focus. I realized we were dismissing millions of people by literally designing them right out of the web experience.

  • Who are the people we are excluding?
  • What’s my incentive for advocating for inclusion?
  • What design practices are helping or hindering profitable websites?

Analytics never told the whole story. I approached human experience design by staying up to date on current studies and research and applying my skills in QA, SEO, UX and IA.

I knew deep down I was missing something.

Equal Access is a Human Right

Why did I care about a web designed for all people to use? What was my incentive for adding accessibility skills to my career?

I could use the web without aids for reading, working, email, watching videos and running an online community for web designers and marketers (my forums ran for 20 years).  I didn’t have a personal reason to consider disabilities unless you count my terrible eyesight.

Sometimes I stutter.  Not a biggie.

I could have walked away and disregarded compassion for customers and ignored competitive value and brand reputation. After all, my clients’ companies didn’t belong to me. I knew the companies that cared for generating income more than generating inclusive, pleasant user experiences.

I could have made recommendations for website conversions without a care in the world about whether people who could see or hear the website.

I was often asked to do that.

However, I always believed the Internet could unify rather than divide and to do that meant making what we built with it user friendly for everyone. Today the buzz word for this is “inclusive”.

Inclusive web design practices invite user independence. Independence feels good because it means they can, rather than they can’t perform any task. It provides equal access and no barriers.

For web conversions, text is vital for communication with site visitors. Understanding how to present text is where designers often fail. Too much text can lead to the need to stop reading.  Too little text and we may lose focus, or become easily distracted.

As web or mobile app designers, we want to encourage staying on task. One way of doing that is by removing the page content elements causing stress and reducing momentum. (Yes, those ads!)

Web page abandonment is one of those signs you see in your data worth exploring. Rarely is page structure, text presentation and information architecture considered as clues. And even when they are, we’re still missing people with disabilities wanting to use your website or mobile app.

Advocating for Web Accessibility

I’ve written volumes over the years on how to structure page content so that it supports the reader who can see the text, buttons, images, headings, little arrows, sliding carousels and links that are usually dull and not exciting at all to click.

We may get away with designing boring pages. We may also get away with inconsiderate UI.

If only a requirement for buying a domain and building a property intended to reside on the Web was to promise to do no harm to our visitors.

But we can’t agree on how to do this. Or if we should. Some countries wrote laws to support or enforce web accessibility.  The WC3 created technical web standards. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) unify best practices and provide guidelines that are updated and reviewed as the technology improves.

I support web experiences designed for everyone because it feels awful to be left out.

A team of web designers sitting at a table with laptops and a whiteboard with sticky notes on the wall.
Accessibility is part of the design process from the start.

All photos by Unsplash

Why Accessibility Became My Focus
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